North Korea hails COVID-19 recovery as WHO worries over missing data

North Korea hails COVID-19 recovery as WHO worries over missing data
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, attends a ruling party meeting in Pyongyang, which claimed the country could overcome the crisis on its own. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Short Url
Updated 18 May 2022

North Korea hails COVID-19 recovery as WHO worries over missing data

North Korea hails COVID-19 recovery as WHO worries over missing data
  • Country’s anti-virus headquarters announced 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths
  • Outside experts believe most of the fevers are COVID-19 but North Korea lacks tests to confirm so many

SEOUL: North Korea said Wednesday more than a million people have already recovered from suspected COVID-19 just a week after disclosing an outbreak it appears to be trying to manage in isolation as global experts express deep concern about the public health threat.
The country’s anti-virus headquarters announced 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths in state media Wednesday. Those figures raise its totals to 62 deaths and more than 1.7 million fever cases since late April. It said at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.
Outside experts believe most of the fevers are COVID-19 but North Korea lacks tests to confirm so many. The outbreak is almost certainly larger than the fever tally, since some virus carriers may not develop fevers or other symptoms.
It’s also unclear how more than a million people recovered so quickly when limited medicine, medical equipment and health facilities exist to treat the country’s impoverished, unvaccinated population of 26 million. Some experts say the North could be simply releasing people from quarantine after their fevers subside.
Globally, COVID-19 has killed about 6.3 million people with the true toll believed to be much higher. Countries with outbreaks of a similar size to North Korea’s official fever tally have confirmed thousands of deaths each.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that North Korea has not responded to its request for more data about its outbreak.
Before acknowledging COVID-19 infections for the first time last week, North Korea had held to a widely doubted claim of keeping out the virus. It also shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of international monitoring requirements attached to them.
North Korea and Eritrea are the only sovereign UN-member countries not to have rolled out vaccines, but Tedros said neither country has responded to WHO’s offers of vaccines, medicines, tests and technical support.
“WHO is deeply concerned at the risk of further spread in (North Korea),” Tedros said, also noting the country has worrying numbers of people with underlying conditions that make them more likely to get severe COVID-19.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said unchecked transmission of the virus could lead to new variants but that WHO was powerless to act unless countries accepted its help.
The North has so far ignored rival South Korea’s offer to provide vaccines, medicine and health personnel, but experts say the North may be more willing to accept help from its main ally China. South Korea’s government said it couldn’t confirm media reports that North Korea flew multiple planes to bring back emergency supplies from China on Tuesday.
North Korean officials during a ruling party Politburo meeting Tuesday continued to express confidence that the country could overcome the crisis on its own, with the Politburo members discussing ways for “continuously maintaining the good chance in the overall epidemic prevention front,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.
There’s suspicion that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow for Kim, who already was navigating the toughest moment of his decade in power. The pandemic has further damaged an economy already broken by mismanagement and US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons and missiles development.
At the Politburo meeting, Kim criticized officials over their early pandemic response, which he said underscored “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” and he blamed the country’s vulnerability on their “non-positive attitude, slackness and non-activity,” KCNA said.
He urged officials to strengthen virus controls at workplaces and redouble efforts to improve the supply of daily necessities and stabilize living conditions, the report said.
North Korea has also deployed nearly 3,000 military medical officers to help deliver medicine to pharmacies and deployed public health officials, teachers and students studying health care to identify people with fevers so they could be quarantined. The country has been relying on finding people with symptoms and isolating them at shelters since it lacks vaccines, high-tech medicine and equipment, and intensive care units that lowered hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.
While raising alarm over the outbreak, Kim has also stressed that his economic goals should be met. State media reports show large groups of workers are continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites, being driven to ensure their works are “propelled as scheduled.”
North Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak came amid a provocative run in weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years, in a brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
US and South Korean officials also believe North Korea could conduct its seventh nuclear test explosion this month.
The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to top agenda when US President Joe Biden meets South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during a visit to Seoul this week. Kim Tae-hyo, Yoon’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters Wednesday that North Korea probably won’t conduct a nuclear test this week but that its preparations for another ICBM test appeared imminent.
Kim Jong Un during Tuesday’s Politburo meeting affirmed he would “arouse the whole party like (an) active volcano once again under the state emergency situation” to prove its leadership before history and time and “defend the wellbeing of the country and the people without fail and demonstrate to the whole world the strength and the spirit of heroic Korea once again,” KCNA said. The report did not make a direct reference to a major weapons test.
Recent commercial satellite images of the nuclear testing ground in Punggye-ri indicate refurbishment work and preparations at a yet unused tunnel on the southern part of the site, which is presumably nearing completion to host a nuclear test, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Beyond Parallel, a website run by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.


UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 02 July 2022

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 02 July 2022

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

BACKGROUND

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy.

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2022

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

Related